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Friday, Dec 19, 2014
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USF researchers submit more info on reform school graves


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TAMPA - Researchers at the University of South Florida who want to exhume human remains at a now-defunct reform school in Marianna have submitted more information to the Florida Department of State as part of the school's application.

The 15-page letter was sent Tuesday in response to an earlier request from the Florida Department of State asking for more details in order to evaluate a permit application for the exhumation on the property.

USF wants to exhume bodies from "Boot Hill Cemetery" and surrounding areas, where it is believed there may be unmarked graves and unaccounted bodies of boys who died. The school, formally known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, was closed in 2011.

The school was located in Marianna about 60 miles west of Tallahassee and was once the nation's largest reform school, with 698 youths.

Most of the children who were buried at the school were black and USF research has shown that several of those buried were orphans.

USF made its request after a circuit judge rejected an exhumation request filed by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

The letter sent this week says that "the search for additional burial areas continues" and that the researchers have two permits for archaeological research and fieldwork. A possible second burial site has been found on property owned by the Department of Juvenile Justice. That property is north of the Boot Hill site and hasn't been examined.

"We don't know if there are burials away from the Boot Hill site or not," said Erin Kimmerle, one of the USF researchers. "We've had a lot of reports from people who were students or family members there, who said that was the case."

Kimmerle said part of the difficulty in determining where graves are is that the site's boundaries have shifted and changed ownership over the years. The state of Florida owns the land but different parcels are managed by different agencies, she said.

Every six months, the researchers must apply for permits and permit extensions with the various agencies.

The Department of State, which is in charge of allowing the researchers to exhume the human remains, did not return a call for comment.

USF researchers have verified the deaths of two adult staff members and 96 children between 1914 and 1973 at the Dozier School. Records indicated that 45 individuals were buried on the 1,400-acre tract from 1914 to 1952 while 31 bodies were sent elsewhere for burial. That leaves at least 22 bodies unaccounted for.

Death certificates and other records, media reports and interviews with former staff members and inmates showed some died from illness and accidents, including a 1914 dormitory fire that claimed the lives of six boys and two staff members who became trapped inside the building.

The school was plagued by scandal almost since its inception; tales of physical, mental and sexual abuse of the children have been documented.

Researchers are also taking DNA from several family members of boys believed to have been buried at the school; the families want to rebury the remains once they are recovered.

The state Legislature has given the researchers $190,000 for the search and exhumation.

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